KANATA, Ontario — Before Monday night’s 5-2 setback at Ottawa, the Bruins entered the game second in the NHL in points. They had banked 46 of an available 60 after suffering their third consecutive loss in as many games. Only Washington (49 of 64) had earned more.
Impressive stuff for a group supposedly coming off a Stanley Cup Final hangover. All the more impressive considering their top two centermen, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, were on the ice together in just 15 of the team’s first 30 games.
Monday made 16.
Bergeron returned as No. 1 center, flanked by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak and consuming his usual diet of all-situations minutes. He hoped he was there to stay.
“You hate to miss games,” said Bergeron, who sat the previous seven, and nine of the last 11, with a nagging core/groin injury. It has been an area of woe for him the last few seasons, and at age 34, his ailment isn’t likely going away without another operation (he had sports hernia surgery after the 2016-17 season).
“If I need to take a couple practices here and there [off] and not miss games, that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “We took this extra time right now to make sure I wasn’t going to have to go through that, and feel good for hopefully the remainder of the season.”
Bergeron said he “felt good” after landing six shots in 21:43, and scoring the Bruins’ first-period goal off a slick dish from Pastrnak. He also went 16 for 25 at the dot (64 percent). The rest of his teammates were 7 for 19 (37 percent).
In his absence, the Bruins are 6-1-2 and their top two centers — Krejci (2-7—9) and Charlie Coyle (4-4—8) — have been productive. But if Bergeron’s back and buzzing, his chemistry with Marchand and Pastrnak could help bust their goal-less skids that have reached five games and three games, respectively.
“It’ll really help Marsh and Pasta,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “They’re a good line and they function well as a threesome. We still won a lot of games without Bergy.
“More for emotion, too. That’s where we lack a little bit of, zip in our game. I think it’s understandable after a short [summer]. Something like that, him coming in the lineup or younger guys giving us a spark, is usually good for us. Not only that, he’s an excellent player.”
Bergeron, now up to 7-16—25 in 22 games, scored his first goal since Nov. 8 in Detroit. In his absence, the Bruins were 6-1-2 and their top two centers — Krejci (2-7—9) and Coyle (4-4—8) — were productive.
Bergeron’s linemates extended their goal droughts: Marchand, six games without a goal, and Pastrnak, four.
While Coyle deserves kudos for sliding into the No. 2 C spot, Krejci’s high-level play in Bergeron’s absence did not go unnoticed, particularly his positioning and sharp stick on the defensive end.
Entering Monday at 5 on 5, no one with 300 or more minutes played had been on the ice for fewer goals than Krejci (four; tied with the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck), according to Natural Stat Trick.
The Bruins had Bergeron and Krejci available for 15 of their first 30 games.
“He’s incredible,” said defenseman Charlie McAvoy. “He stays on the right side of guys. He always comes out of the corner with the puck, or battles hard. When you replace Bergy — which is impossible — he steps into that, he accepts it, and he can do those things. He can play against the best guys because he’s so responsible defensively. It’s a huge credit to him.
“Offensively, he’s Krech. He has an incredible skill set.”
Thinking of Pete
The Bruins sent their condolences to the family of Pete Frates, who lost his battle with ALS on Monday at age 34.
Each Bruin who spoke after the game — Cassidy, captain Zdeno Chara, Bergeron, defenseman Torey Krug and goalie Tuukka Rask — opened with a tribute.
“Very sad news,” Chara said. “We were connected to Pete. Our condolences go to the whole family. He was such an inspiration for us.”
Bergeron: “What Pete and the rest of his family have done for raising awareness for ALS has been so inspiration for all of us. We’re going to miss him dearly.”
Rask: “It’s tough to see. Same with Johnny Martin, too. You know the guy, and the disease takes over and he can’t even speak or do nothing. It’s so inspiring to see how he showed up for events and games and raised awareness for this disease. But it sucks.”
Krug: “From all of the guys in the room, condolences to the Frates family. Pete was an unbelievable person. Obviously he’s done a lot and he’s a true hero. It’s a tough loss. But he made a lot of lives better.”
Cassidy: “Tough day for them. We’re thinking of them. Thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Ottawa forward Scott Sabourin spoke to reporters for the first time since his scary crash with David Backes at TD Garden nearly six weeks ago.
Sabourin, concussed and his nose broken, was stretchered off the ice and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital after colliding with Backes Nov. 2. He has no timetable for a return, but he has been on the ice, skating lightly, for a couple weeks.
He praised Backes, who missed 13 games himself after the collision, for reaching out. “Super nice,” Sabourin said before the puck drop, noting that three other Bruins did the same “He said a lot of kind words. It was nice to see the support. I’m glad to see he’s doing well and playing hockey again. I look forward to playing against him in the future.”
Steven Kampfer cleared waivers Monday and was assigned to Providence. The 31-year-old capably handled the seventh defenseman role since arriving in a swap for Adam McQuaid in September 2018.
It is a job that now falls to rookie Connor Clifton, who sat for the third game in a row. “It’s not ideal for a young guy, we know that,” Cassidy said. “A young guy should be playing. At least he’s been through it a couple years.” He’s not a true first-year player. I think he’s a little more prepared than he would have been last year or two years ago.”
The Bruins invested in turning the 24-year-old Clifton (2-0—2 in 24 games) into a full-time pro, so he likely won’t be in mothballs as long as Kampfer (four games this season). John Moore, who suited up for his third game in a row after a seven-month recovery from shoulder surgery, may need a rest this week.
Rising star defenseman Cale Makar was absent from the Avalanche’s morning skate against his hometown Flames. Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Award last year at UMass, left Saturday’s game after taking a clean, hard hit from Marchand. He was day-to-day with an upper-body injury . . . According to NHL Network, Bruins draft picks Johnny Beecher (2019 first round, 30th overall) and Curtis Hall (2018 fourth round, 119th overall) were invited to Team USA camp for the World Junior Championship. The tournament runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.